Tom Adeyoola on Why Your ‘Brilliant’ Technology Fails To Have Impact

Tom Adeyoola’s self-confessed list of ‘fails’ at previous jobs is… significant. Technology launched before the market was ready, a funded company run into the grown, struggling to reach the heights of an American counterpart. However his current business, Metail, is going from strength to strength. At BoS Europe 2018, Tom outlines some of the key things he learned during his ‘fails’ that have helped propel Metail to the level of success they’re currently experiencing with the help of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Find Tom’s talk slides, video, transcript, and more from Tom below.

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Tom Adeyoola: Thank you. Good morning everybody. Everybody okay, everybody good? Everybody ready? So why did I start my music with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. So I was told I had to walk on to some form of music this morning. I chose the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I think growing up as a teenager I always wanted to be. Well the cool guy the inventive guy the guy who always came up with the crazy ideas but the reality growing up was that I was actually more Carlton. The tragedy of this actually is that Carlton was a champion dancer who danced in an ad as a small kid with Michael Jackson and he has spent the rest of his years being known for deliberately dancing badly. But actually if you look at this now and you didn’t know anything about the show you’d think Carlton is the cool guy and who’s this dweeb over here with the cap and the terrible outfit. So you know I think that’s been something I thought about in terms of my career is like actually it’s not about the invention it’s more about the innovation. And I’m quite proud to be this guy. So where have I been since school and dreams of being the Fresh Prince. I’ve had quite a varied career. I started economics at Cambridge. I went on to do management consultancy at ZS associates. Mainly in the Pharma game. I then went and joined the burgeoning Internet world went and then worked in 3G. Looked to new models for private jet aviation, managed a band, went and worked in film because I love film so much and found it intensely dull working for a blue chip company. Then I worked in a gaming gambling company before finally starting my own thing. So you probably look at this face and wondering how old I am because that seems like too many things to do between now and then but I’m much older than I look…

So what have I learned along the way. At Sportal, I started in 1998 raised and spent one hundred million pounds. Three hundred seventy five people. Sponsored everything from Euro 2000 to Juventus, ran websites for key marquee clubs around the world… and went into administration in just three years. The glory days of the Internet. Bots. Some friends of mine went off and did the same thing a few years later and successfully floated their business in 2012 for 500 million. So that model was actually something that would work. It was just at the wrong time. So that was the first great instance of failure that I experienced in my career. Then I went on with the marketing director as boom went to bust at Sportal and joined Hutchison 3G UK. It was I think the biggest startup in corporate history at the time. It went from zero to seventeen hundred people in a year. We’ll talk about Uber in amazed tones these days having raised towards ten billion dollars. Or Hutchison 3G raised 10 billion pounds before it earned a penny in revenue. And it was all predicated on trying to deliver media services to mobile phones. But they look like this and they’re terrible. And as we were building out the business it became increasingly clear that the notion of building a great media company on 3G wasn’t going to be there for launch. And in fact it took six years before there was a phone which was going to be capable of doing that. And that wasn’t even 3G. So the iPhone was a 2G product. And far from being a company that was going to deliver a whole bunch of customers who were going to be innovative adopters the likes of people who buy Apple products, actually where 3G had to play in the end was with cheap voice for effectively ‘chavs’ is the way they called it. That was their target market. So they pushed the idea that they would have really cheap services and cheap voice technology. So it had to go somewhere different to succeed and therefore the original business model was a fail.

MarquisJet. So, went and looked to private jet world and my focus was on trying to basically bring that prepaid phone card model into private jet aviation. So the ability to fly for twenty five hours at a time for a cost of eight thousand dollars rather than having to buy fractions of planes. And this was a great concept. It flew literally in in the US and went absolutely gangbusters and market it still exists today. And in fact how the concept came about was a bit of fortune if you like. So there was a company who make all of the music that happens in between basketball games, that Dum Dum Dum Dum diddle diddle… And they were still quite big in the music industry. They ended up arranging for Richard Santulli who was the CEO of Net Jets the biggest private jet business in the world owned by Warren Buffett for his daughter to sing live on stage with Christina Aguilera. Subsequently said to the guys Kenny Dichter and Jessie Metzler if you ever need anything just ask me. And they said Funny you should mention that we’ve had this business idea where we want to take your jets and subdivide them into many more fractions and you currently sell and basically charter planes in that way. And he said Yeah no problem. You made my daughter’s dream come true say anything you want. So that they were allowed to build a business off the back of his business. And it worked really well in the US. We then took that model. We started to build a franchise in Europe and it did not work and it did not work for many different reasons. So fundamentally in the US you had a lot of seven hour destination flights. In Europe you could pretty much get everywhere within three hours in terms of major places. You had a hub and spoke in the US you had point to point in Europe and most importantly you had a lot of old money in Europe vs. new money in the US and if you talk to anybody about flying private jets they’d say I fly EasyJet. So that was a big difference in the European market just wasn’t big enough for scale. And in the end MarquisJet in Europe got bought by Net Jets we helped push things along. But actually Net Jets in Europe never quite hit the scale it needed to operate and be a major success. That was another fail.

Then in terms of my time in the arts. Managing a band and at Warner Brothers I was working on basically building a new sort of public screening video license. So the idea of four places exactly like this to provide new form of licenses where you could basically watching Hollywood movies etc. for exactly this scenario. In the end we found that the market wasn’t really ready, just too small in terms of the band that I managed were a bit too niche. The likes of MySpace and other technologies weren’t really there yet. So the ability to find your audience just didn’t exist if that if the band had been born just a few years later it might have had a really good chance of basically finding its audience and over the Internet and being able to basically create a wave of momentum. In fact one of the guys that we used to create a remix for the bands he progressed by himself and he’s now in a position where. Because of technology he’s able to live random places around the world and distribute his music direct to his fan base and make a living off it. So this is something that wasn’t quite there and quite ready then and the band was here and seven people too many and the category that they made was all jazz funk hip hop. So it’s like trying to do too many things different time signatures very complex stuff. They’re not exactly mainstream. So more fail. But I learnt a lot along the way. And then I think I was in a position where again wondering what to do next. And ended up joining a company called inspired and I think this was a place where I really started to learn a huge amount. It was in the casino gambling space. I’m not a gambler whatsoever, I have no predilection to it at all.

But in working for this company I learned a lot about idea creation. So as I mentioned earlier I never thought I was an inventive guy suddenly working here. I realized that ideas were all about customer problems and needs. So we had three potential massive customers with huge problems that needed solutions. And this was an area where I was enabled to really flourish in terms of basically working out how we could try and solve them, and came up with quite a lot of products. So by the end of my time there I was head of product development looking after 40000 machines across the UK and globally and fortune was responsible for product development for a lot of these machines that you would have heard about in the news recently is that the price limit has been reduced because they’re a blight on society which they usually are. So, yeah.

One of the things I did learn. Right. So that first product if I go back here this one over here and bingo you know this is pre iPod coming up with a touch screen terminal. What happened in the initial what was about to happen in Bingo was the smoking ban. You had a huge proportion of the working classes you went to bingo. Every week. But 40 percent of them smoked. And worse than that 70 percent of the money made by bingo halls was made in the intervals between the main games. So. Bingo was facing a catastrophe. Or a smoking ban was about to make them all our business. So what we looked at was could we create some form of terminal that would allow customers to take it outside with them into the smoking areas and keep playing. Fortunately we’re just a bit too little too late. It’s only about an industry in decline having to basically spend a huge amount of money on capital expenditure to try and save their industry. It was all too late. This stuff worked well. Again pre any sort of touchscreen devices that went consumer. So these were pretty expensive devices but it was too late. So that led to the rise of online Bingo. All because of this. And I think in terms of that destruction of the Mecca as a place where people could go and meet each other and see each other I think has not been good for society. So a big unintended consequence that.

On the casino side what we developed was a machine which allowed you to play on four roulette wheels simultaneously. And it meant that you could play faster than existing games and this is all about basically exploiting some of the loopholes in the law. So in a casino you can only have a fixed number of roulette wheels and there are a fixed number of spaces around the roulette wheels thereby putting in terminals you could basically increase the capacity for any given roulette wheel infinitely. So we created this. And amazingly it was taking two times the revenue of any other machine and casino from the trial phase. And it seemed an absolute no brainer. But we forgot about some key things – we’ve done loads of testing, we’d put this stuff out. And we worked with management and so on but we never told any of these guys – the dealers. Because in the end in introducing this new game we put a touch screen terminal on there. In their environment and it meant that these guys would have to press a green button to go in a red button to stop for each game and half of these guys had never used computers before. So we suddenly faced a huge amount of difficulty. To the extent that these guys could have killed the whole project. And we hadn’t eaten our dog food as a team, we weren’t people who really understood casinos that well and all of the difficulties that happen in the live environment. So we were faced with having launched something into the field and having to turn it around supremely quickly. So the three of us spent three weeks with a hundred hour weeks trying to turn the situation around. And we did somehow amazingly working really closely with these guys to basically turn that tablet into something that they could use, really understanding what their needs were, and ultimately putting in a right back where we got rid of that tablet completely, prior to full rollout across the estate. And it was a hugely important time where we really learned a lot about the casino and importantly the trust of everybody in that environment, that we were on their side and to deliver for them. So in terms of hundred hour weeks I spent every hour in the casino it’s 6 in the morning I’d go home I’d have one hour kip, shower and go straight back to work to try and basically fix all the problems that we had in the product. And only for doing that and really understanding them did we get through it. Once I got past that I was still getting calls. All through the night. So the casino would call me. Many months later and I’d say well why are you calling me. We’ve got your first second and third line support. And I say yes but you can solve the problem. So that was a nightmare to wean them off calling me and I went for a phase where it was a case of you know I’d wake up in the middle of night to clear down e-mails because I’d have eight e-mails by the morning if I didn’t do so. So that was the unfortunate difficulty of dealing with a business where they worked through the night. And it was all around basically understanding people’s side of things to actually make this a success was a big learning for me. It wasn’t just down to the numbers. It was like How do how are we going to get these guys to be advocates. And that one casino then basically with the guys who went out and sold us to every other casino. So we went from zero with a broken product that may work out well but made money to 70 percent UK market penetration in 18 months. How do we do that? People, people in the team. I was a 20 something at the time I had another really young straight out of university guy and a crazy Las Vegas ex submariner guys our cool team basically trying to get this thing moving. The young guy was really empathetic, he worked really well with the people in the casino. My ex Las Vegas guy was somebody who could go in and hack around and fix problems on the fly and really understood how a casino worked. And so together as different members of the team we had different skill sets to make things happen. And that that was really key and actually over time we needed different types of people. So that guy who was the guy who would fix everything on the fly in the end we had to manage our way out of being having to rely on him. So he was great for that early stage of basically being the hero. But if you want to build something scalable, we needed to not have heroes and not have to rely on heroes. And that’s where we had to build out and get different subset of people who were very much managers and very methodical. Because that was the only way you could basically deliver anything that could scale thereafter. And for us I think we at the time would focus that growing market so people needed and were looking to expand their casino operations they were looking to expand on the bingo side. So that meant that people were willing to to accept mistakes with a view to basically pushing towards an exciting future. So positioning yourself in a market that’s growing gives you the ability to survive on a bit of goodwill and to survive mistakes as you go.

And then finally like this is an important piece which I don’t want to underplay actually. We were in a position where. A lot of the companies that we were working with said gala got a Gala Group before they joined to Coral and our big owners were LeisureLink. They’d all been spun out of one company. Bass. Bass is a historic company goes back over a hundred years. They spun out a lot of the big companies that we know today in the pubs and gaming space and because of that you had a real sort of connection of the different people at senior levels. And I think if you’re doing anything and rolling out any software you need to find some form of defensibility. In terms of commercial or be it in terms of technology and our commercial lock between the big characters at senior levels was critical to getting through the difficult times that we had. And there are always difficult times. And it’s about how you could get through those difficult times and out the other side so you need as much as you can in terms of goodwill and the capability to drive through that. And timing was critical. So as I mentioned the market was growing and a lot of that was because of expectations around the gaming act to 2005. Which was then implemented in 2007. So I think if you go back to that era the UK was thinking about launching super casinos everywhere. And as a consequence there was a big focus on getting ready for that opportunity and it wasn’t just in the UK. Every major country in Europe thinking about the tax take of gaming. They weren’t thinking about negative sides but they were thinking about growing it. So there was a lot of opportunity to go for. So timing is always always important.

So having sort of launched those products and survived, I was I was finally ready to go it alone. So then it was a case of an idea. And I think you know having gone through all those different experiences, for me it was very much a case of needing to solve a real customer issue and this took a long time to figure out. It took over a year once I was ready to actually do my own thing. It took a year to find something that I would go after and I think so key thought process around that was like it couldn’t be something which is about reinventing the wheel. Or it had to be something that was trying to minimize a change in behavior. So these are the things I definitely learned – it was like how to be successful required these two things and you had to be going off real consumer challenge. So that took a year of ideation. I would meet monthly with friends would bounce things around. Nothing ever seemed quite interesting enough big enough. And certainly having been an economist for me big challenges and disruptive change were the things I was interested in. So where would I get to? And then in terms of trying to think about consumers. I always think about these things so this is how consumer thinks and they think generally the same and that they always have and they always will. So consumers want better quality and more convenience at a lower price. So that’s the sort of triangle of things that they’re always looking for. So when you’re trying to deliver a solution how can you how can you basically deliver against these. Certainly if you’re thinking about consumers.

And that’s what basically got me going moving round and round and round where I randomly ended up as somebody who’s never been in fashion. So I think you look at my career I’ve been a fashion film gaming music. The thing that sort of hooked me here to going into fashion was again the size of the idea and hooking onto a real consumer issue. So for me it was my girlfriend at the time, now wife, complaining about the whole process of shopping. For clothes going into changing rooms getting all hot and bothered and flustered and just ultimately demoralised by the whole experience and nothing had got better online. So I wonder why hadn’t things got better. So that stuck in my mind. I then saw some interesting technology around that. And I was in my gaming company I was in the process of trying to create the world’s first live black jack and Bacharach game. And I wanted to use cameras to recognise cards as they’re being dealt like in a casino. Through the process of investigating that. I was actually sitting in a hotel room in Hong Kong having been to Macao and watched Bacharach being played there and seeing how big the opportunity was. So I just googled “Leading expert computer vision”. And a professor at Cambridge University popped up first. And it had its telephone number. So I just cold called him from my hotel room and I got three first time. I said look I want to build this game engine from scratch how easy would it be. And he said Yeah no problem it’s all come visit me. So I went to visit him. Ended up commissioning a prototype from one of his ex-PhD students. One of the key things that he showed me in terms of his research which stuck in my mind was going from photos of Antony Gormley statues to 3D accurate representations. So much so that that is actually how Antony Gormley now makes his statues. So he uses Roberto’s software to take photos of himself and then recreate some in 3-D and then that gives him a huge amount of variation and speed and dynamism to create different types of sculpture concepts. And that then stuck in my mind. I had my wife’s complaints about fashion. We then went on holiday to Vietnam and she had some stuff tailor made in Hoi An I thought well sort of flying halfway around the world for you to find some stuff that would work for you in particular types of garment types. Maybe this technology solution could be the answer. So could I use computer vision as a means of being able to generate body shapes and also allow me to digitize garments really fast and really cheaply. So I create the MP3 of the garment world for then everybody to be able to try on and see how they fit. And then effectively solve the online clothing fit problem. So that was a big problem. It was an exciting one. And it felt like the type of thing that I would then commit myself to.

So. I then went about trying to investigate this and do a lot of research so I didn’t go in blind and I remembered this company that I nearly joined in 1998. So who remembers Right. So basically half the air above me at college ended up getting there founded in 1998. They raised more money than we did at Sportal. And they went bust quicker. But they blue skied every idea in online fashion retailer at the time and they were a really interesting place to go in and look and think and I read the book “Boo Hoo” which is written by the founder and Mount St.. Great read. Written with sort of a bit of lack of self-awareness, so it’s quite honest on that basis and they had all the big ideas free returns 3D garment visualizations virtual assistant. They were just way too early. They was building all of this stuff from scratch and they didn’t have enough money to do that. Lots of really smart people, and in fact a big coincidence was that the head of business development at was my CEO at the gaming company, Inspired. So I spent a long time looking at what happened since then. Very little in fact had progressed. So none of these ideas had followed through. But the whole world had changed. So for me then it was a case of like had failed then there are about 20 other companies that failed in that space. So how how was I going to avoid failure. Key for me I felt was around again the people point. I felt the computer vision was crucial. Technology was going to be crucial and having the right fashion mix of people in in the business as well. We needed to be a good mix of people that could look at the problem from different ways. The market was clearly growing so online retail was growing at a tremendous rate. The growth of ASOS etc so it was felt like an exciting time to basically be getting back into this space where people had previously failed. And defensibility. So in order to basically build a business that could succeed out the UK for me the key was being able to develop a really strong IP base a strong base of exceptionally differentiated technology. And why? I think the classic UK tech problem for me looks like this. This is a papier-mâché Ferrari. So. What you find in the US and increasingly the more times I go to Silicon Valley the more that feels true is that it’s the land of hype and marketing. They will sell you something that looks like a Ferrari. Looks incredible. But the moment you go and touch it your hand goes through it is made of papier-mâché. There’s no actual real substance. It’s the land of fake it till you make it. Whereas in the UK we build incredible chassis the engines is beautiful and you go and try and sell that to somebody and they go “Well you know what is it? Where’s my seat? How am I going to actually…” But look at it look at the engine! It’s sparkling it’s incredible nobody’s ever made an engine like that before. So that that’s how we sell technology. This is how the US sell technology – the US will sell the vision and then they will raise all the money they can to actually then build with the underlying tech and stick it in there before you realize that. And then they got such tremendous speed that they end up more often than not actually building the insides. Whereas for us, we spent so long doing this part, then a US company realizes that we’ve got exactly what they need to fit into this, so they come to buy us. All right. So. I you know I think this this is certainly the case in this example for me I knew these guys. So. They basically proves the concept of e-hailing in terms of taxis. I made good friends with the black cab owners I went to New York and then I made good friends with the yellow cab owners. Did it your typical softly softly slowly slowly way that we do in the UK. The big VCs went Hold on a minute. They’ve proved this concept. This is clearly going to be a thing over the next five to 10 years. Right. So who are the guys who are the most aggressive in the world who are going to see smash everyone else up. We’ll give them all the money I say. Give all the money to these guys to take out all of these guys. So that’s what is typically happened in UK tech for me. So. Going back to my focus about how are we going to succeed. It’s always been around. We have to basically succeed by delivering disruptive differentiated technology because there’s no way we’ll win on cash – the US always wins on cash. And I think in this example really sort of like highlights it for me. If you look at all of the great startups over the last 10 years you know their total valuation including lots of Skype who’ve exited $140bn. SAP $121bn company. We’ve only ever made one of these. When I started Metail I went to a really depressing conference where the talk was will there ever be another SAP in Europe. At the moment, No is the answer. SAP was the same size as the next, at that time, 50 combined businesses including the likes of Autonomy. And when you talk to people about why they got to that position it was because there wasn’t a US equivalent that could have bought them so they got to scale in time to not get bought by US equivalent and kept going. So that’s UK/US.

So and a big focus for me because I wanted to build a global tech business which was crazy idea. And as I mentioned timing was important say the growth of online was happening. Cloud computing was happening. Broadband penetration had got to a level and I had this amazing access to Cambridge University and the growing maturity of computer vision. So that felt exciting and it was the encouragement I needed to go after this space. But. This is like late 2007. So a company I was at Inspired Gaming Group, they were about to sell the business at the end of 2007 to Icelandic banks. The night before the press conference to announce a deal where things were going to be great, my bosses were going to become my first investors in Metail, I was going make some options things would were fine. Yeah that. The deal floundered. And then everything collapsed and inspired gaming group over the course of next year they were a publicly listed business, their share price went down ninety nine point nine percent. So my options were well underwater. But I thought this is a big enough idea to go after. Anyway. And actually I think this scenario is probably what saved the business because I would have spent all that money in a year and I wouldn’t have done the things I needed to do to actually make a success of it because I didn’t know the industry. So taking longer spending two and a half years to basically get to proof of concept and prototype. You know bootstrapping on very little money no salary, it meant I spent a lot of time networking in the space a lot of time talking to people in the space trying to understand the issues. And without that I don’t think I would have basically built the business in the right way to have lasted 10 years that we have done. And I don’t think I would’ve survived all the challenges that we faced. So we started with this initial premise that creating the new ability to try something on and that was the focus the core focus. And originally a launch partner was going to be these guys, ASOS. Between you and I, this went south quite spectacularly way for me. I ended up getting called in to meet the CEO. Our project sponsor was the econ director employee number one hired at ASOS and the CEO said right when to take a stake in your business. Okay great. You’re gonna get to come and work in our office and use our people and I said is there any money. Answer – No. Okay… I’ve got another offer for a million pounds investment in the business say thanks but no thanks. The agency I didn’t take that very well. In fact there a lot of expletives in that meeting thereafter. And I ended up leaving the meeting with the econ director who said to me I’ve lost my mojo, I’m going to take three months off, don’t tell my team. So. I think I then naively made quite a big mistake. He ended up taking more time off. I didn’t work hard enough to basically network into the other stakeholders in the exec team. I just waited for him to come back. And as a consequence when he came back he was no longer top dog. It was not as easy to get the project to basically launch. And we missed our launch window with them which could have killed the business. Killed the business completely. So they went.

So I sat there in November 2011. What we gonna do. Money is gonna run out. How we gonna survive this? And out of nowhere came Tesco. A friend of mine’s girlfriend overheard a conversation on a table next to her while she was working at Tesco from a clothing team wanting to investigate virtual fitting room solutions. So we got a call. And went from no launch in November 2011 to launching with Tesco February 2012, which saved us, completely saved us. And we went on to win best online innovation at Tesco as voted for by Phil Clarke and the senior team. The numbers proved that we had dramatic impact. We drove I think a quarter of their Facebook likes. But then the whole team got promoted. And we were left with another team and they took a year to pay us. This is pre the accounting scandal so I understand why now. And we found that we just couldn’t work with them as an organisation. So that ended that relationship.

So two big parties that we should have launched with we had none. Now. We also work with another company, Warehouse, in the UK. Owned by Icelandic banks. In the course of a year working with them they just kept shrinking the team. So by the end of the year they had no e-commerce team. And they had no CEO. So they went as well. So. Yeah we had this great technology and we couldn’t keep clients in the UK. The market was in such. A difficult position of decline. It’s like if this is a real struggle we had something that we had numbers which showed that people were engaged but we just could not get the markets to work. And we couldn’t get direct to the consumers. We were blocked by the retailers. So there was no way for us to get our product out direct to the consumer. So we are effectively a B2B2C play. We’re enabling technology that we provided to retailers to provide their customers with a way in which to try on their plays. So this is a massive challenge for us. It’s still amazing that we got through it and we face the UK market that was increasingly focused on money and saving money because the market was in decline so you had a market where they were massively over leveraged with debt says rightly so equity in the businesses at too much real estate, they hadlegacy systems. So yeah I think M&S took five plus years to change that e-commerce system. Cost them over 200 million. And they had legacy talent so they haven’t changed their talent pool and refocused themselves towards a new online reality. So trying to sell a forward looking, consumer experience focused technology into a market that was basically trying to stay alive was impossible. And we were saved again by our people. We had incredibly diverse mix of people a mix of people different nationalities different languages which meant that when actually the Asian market came calling we’re able to do service. We had native speakers for a lot of the places that we suddenly started to get interest from. And in Asia we found a market where they were millennial run data savvy tech savvy focused at fast growing middle class markets, willing to basically make investment decisions on consumer experience going forward. So as a technology we built the technology in a way to be global day one, so we were able to suddenly service these markets even though we’re in the UK. So we were going against completely against normal orthodoxy which said go big in your domestic market before expanding out. Whereas the reality is, where is the market first for your technology. Put yourself in the stream that’s maybe the quickest. And that is you’re early and late adopter market and then you work out how to get it elsewhere and I think now with the Internet and the likes of cloud computing etc it’s been easier than it’s ever been to basically try and find your market.

And then we had focused all this time on defensibility. So last year we ranked fourth in the UK IP league in terms of our focus on IP. We’ve got 16 granted patents across UK Europe in the US, trying to get them in China but I really very much doubt that we’ll ever get past the adjudicators there because they throw any type of reason back at you. So I think China still got a long way to go on the IP front before it’s a fair market, we’ve got 40 plus patents pending. So we built a real focus on IP and we built an asset base which was one which encouraged us to gain more investment. So one of the biggest clothing manufacturers out of Hong Kong is one of our biggest investors. They put a lot of money into the business. And as a consequence we’ve raised $22.5 million to date. 10 years in and one of the big reasons for that is that 3rd column defensibility and IP. We built a house that people were interested in. But we also had to try and think about how to become a no brainer. I think this is a quote in the book by Ben Horovitz which I sort of go back to time and time again. Because when you work with businesses you always think well then the numbers show themselves but they don’t. So being two or three times better is not enough. You need to be 10 times better to really drive adoption. And that’s the key. So for us as a business we had to figure out how to deliver more value. So we extended the product into the ability to drive cheaper imagery. And from the data side to help them drive better products. So understanding the size and shape of people and how they connect to clothing. With a view to basically making clothing fit for all. So this is something that we basically push now and as a consequence we’re now starting to see our commercial base grow exponentially. And we’ve been able to come back to the U.K. So we’re now starting to work with the U.K. customers because we started to do this. We started to work out how to save some money. So that’s how we basically think about the industry. So how can we be part of our clients drive to drive efficiencies great experiences and generate insights. And the whole industry’s starting to catch up with us. So I think we were way more forward thinking than industry was. They’ve started to catch up. So everybody’s terrified at these guys Amazon who now are 55 percent of all product searches that last year I think they became the number one clothing retailer from scratch in the US four out of the top 10 retailers are up for sale. Becoming dominant in the U.K.. Everybody needs to have a strategy. Also in terms of clothing manufacturers… Ethical cheap labor is gone. Like China increasing minimum wages and forcing changes into how factories operate there aren’t many places to go. And a lot of the factories went to Vietnam and Thailand because of TPP and then this man came into power he said no TPP, no tariff free trade. So the big clothing manufacturers are thinking about well we’ve got to think about robots automation and data, if they’re going to have a long term future. Which is why they invest in us it’s always a big consumer pressure on the supply chain. See now by now like we want the faster we want stuff faster. How are you going to deliver that you need. Data and technology – And people have started to realize that. The last year has been picking up I’ve been about putting everything onto the Internet and that’s delivered a paralysis of choice.
So personalization is the only way out of that. So that’s become an exciting position for us to be in. So how do you deliver a Netflix type model as a base to a search based Amazon one. Everybody’s on the phone. How do you basically turn that around into an advantage? 85 percent of their sales are mobile. And how can you know more about your customer? It’s incredible how little retailers know about their customers. If you can start to understand their size and shape profile and what they interact with you can start to deliver the same experience that you deliver in a department store where you know that person who you see weekly. And for us it’s about trying to bring that data all the way back into the cycle. All parts of the cycle. So getting to the end now. I remember early on in the journey of Metail listening to. This person speak Megan Smith I think she was one of the early hires at Google. And she became the first USA CTO under Obama and one of the things she talked about was that which I’ve tried to think about again and again and which one of the themes I’ve been talking about today, is that if you want to build products for a global market, you need to have a team which reflects your customer base because there’s no way to relate otherwise. So diversity in terms your team is not about being altruistic or anything like that but it’s actually about making business sense. So the more it the as your team is all the more that your team relates to your customers on the other side the better your chances of a product. It’s always a challenge when you’re building software because of the fact that certainly for us we’re building products for women – 70 percent of clothing sales are women’s clothing and they’re also responsible for 50 percent of the rest (I know my wife buys most of my clothes). So then with Dev teams you traditionally have you’re basically 90 to 95 percent men. So how can you work to balance out that and what those issues. And we have a very mixed team on the other side. But it’s never quite enough. So we still need to struggle to try and build that diversity.

But Google has this problem too! So for me, the duplex that they launched the other day was a prime example of why brilliant technology fails. That idea of an assistant calling out for you. It very much felt like a technological solution which is built on being wow and was highly engineering biased but without many product people actually thinking through what this means. You decided basically that this person over here is and their time are valueless. You’re not telling them that you’re a robot calling into them to deliver something. If you’re going to build a solution that was actually going to make sense sense and it was going to be something you’d roll out you’d rethink this whole user journey. This user journey was built for everybody to say this is cool and this is wow. Wasn’t built to actually be something you could realistically roll out and the big ethics backlash to this is a consequence of that. But it was cool right? All of those little pieces that they rolled into it and how they dealt with the person the other side looks cool but I don’t think it’s something that actually people want. It’s uncanny, the uncanny valley. But you know they’ve done it before the Google Glass, another bit of wow technology which is a failure. One of my favorites Juicero, they raised excess of a hundred million dollars to build a juicing machine. I sat on the board with somebody for a company and he had one of these and I couldn’t stop berating him for the fact that he bought one of these things where you know it’s easy to use my hand to squeeze the packages than it is to actually use this extremely expensive device. They naturally failed. Sinclair C5 also failed and even the big guys have failures right. So this is the Fire phone. Again the user journey didn’t quite make sense. It was like I’m gonna buy a phone to connect me to your store so that you can make more money. It didn’t make sense and Jobs with the Next as well.

So I think you can always basically fall into the trap of Wow technology especially if you make something which looks super exciting and forget the people aspect of it. Does the people make sense. Is there a real consumer problem that you’re trying to solve. Is there a defensible position to actually drive it to market and is the market a growth one. Because if it isn’t a growth one you can’t make that many mistakes before you go out of business.

So, back to FRESH PRINCE OF Bel Air. The thing that was exciting for me about going back to this was I didn’t realize that when will Smith made the Fresh Prince of Bel Air he was busted broke. He’d been an 18 year old rap star. He made six million dollars with his first album. Then he released the second album which was a huge flop. Not only that he’d spent all the money from the first album and owed the IRS a huge amount. So they had reclaimed all of his sports cars they reclaimed everything that he had. He didn’t know what to do say his girlfriend said look I think you should go and basically spend some time and just loiter around the Arsenio Hall Show. Which he did. And then he got to know a guy called Benny Madina. He said Oh yeah I think you should come with me. I’m going to this party at Quincy Jones’ house. Guys went to Quincy Jones’ house. Quincy thought he’s quite cool. Said look I’ve got this script I want you to look at it and even bother changing the title was an old script which has failed. He said I want you to do an audition now. The NBC guys are here. He said “What, now?”. How about in a week. He goes Oh okay. Okay. We can arrange your audition in a week. And I guess I’ll tell you what. In a week’s time it will get rescheduled. And it won’t happen because. Okay how about three weeks. Okay. Yeah. We can try and change it for three weeks. Or you can take 10 minutes now to change the rest of your life. So that’s what Will did. They moved everything all the furniture in the room and he basically auditioned for the part right there right then. And the NBC guy said Yeah that sounds great. And Quincy wouldn’t let it go. He was like right okay we’re gonna draw up the contracts now. There’s your lawyer, write the contract now. Which he did. So the contract was written right there and then at the party. He ended up running the show. He had never been an actor before. The next five years the IRS took 70 percent of his salary as he paid them back. And his career went on to stellar heights. So surround yourself with good people attack a growing market – TV at the time for him, he had flopped in the music space – and make sure you have unique IP or commercial contracts. He had a unique charisma and he had a unique connection or had made himself get unique connection to people who can make stuff happen.

And of course the final thing is just be lucky. Work hard to increase the chances of something lucky happening for you. I think you can actually make luck happen. You’ve got to work hard to put yourselves in the position for things to happen. A current one for us is we have a girl working for us as an account director in January we said are we really need to go to India to make this this client happen – she said “Okay fine”. She moved two weeks later.
She ends up moving into a place called St. John’s Wood. By coincidence, by even further coincidence, the bigger company that owns the company that we’re working with, all of their senior executives live there. And by even further coincidence she used to be top 60 tennis player. She was playing and then those execs spotted her playing say oh could you join our twice a week game? So she’s now built relationships with the people that we need to know in that market. So that was something lucky that happened but only because she was willing to go out there and I think there are a lot of instances I’ve heard from friends etc. where you’ve got to basically put yourself in the position for lucky things that happen. You’ve got to go out there you’ve got to do the analysis you’ve got to work out where your client base are where they’re going to be. Another friend of mine he did the shirt sponsorship for Tottenham with Mansion. He’d heard on the grapevine that they were trying to do a deal with United. United said no he intercepted them at the airport and at the airport in the lounge did a deal for 45 million pounds. And that was because he did the work. So as Quincy Jones said to the lawyer no paralysis, do analysis. You can make luck happen for you, alongside all of these other things. So, luck is key. Thank you so much.

Mark Littlewood: We’re going to have to have a couple of questions quickly.

Audience Member: What was your driver, why were you doing things? Because obviously it wasn’t tech you were doing many different things. Was it to make money or to make a difference? What drove you as a person?

Tom Adeyoola: For me my big drive for disruptive change like trying to solve big problems. I think that was the thing, the economist in me. So if you like Metail is only finished when my wife is using that technology for her shopping in the U.K. market. So it’s been great that we’ve been out in Asia but we’re not solved until we deliver that here. I think money is never really the driver, certainly I’d be wealthier if I was doing a job for the last 10 years rather than this business. I think it is about trying to leave a mark and trying to basically solve a big problem. So for example if I sold my business to the clothing manufacturer that would be a fail for me, because they have no means of taking the product and putting it out amongst all consumers. So if I sold the business to a business who could then basically extrapolate it and take the technology forward and put it into the hands of consumers all around the globe, that would be success.

Audience Member: Thank you for the session. Do you think that relying too much on IP as a point at defensibility is kind of risky because eventually patents expire and competitors catch up?

Tom Adeyoola: Yeah. I mean I think I think it’s more about what’s your what’s your overall strategy. So I I’ve been in the position where I’ve innovated our way round patents so absolutely you do that. But I think it’s more about what’s your ethos right. So yeah patents run out et cetera. But it’s like well are you going to innovate faster than the opposition. Yes or no? So you can’t raise as much money as the opposition so it’s like what is your strategy going to be and how can you box yourself into a position where you can basically fumble your way forward. Because I think certainly in our space if we don’t file and if we don’t be smart, we get blocked because the U.S. equivalent is going to do it. Right so that’s the hard thing about having strategy is it’s not just offensive it’s defensive. So yeah the likes of Amazon etc. they file 30000 patents a year. So if you don’t file any you’re going to have you have no ability to even operate in the US market. So I think you’ve got to think slightly that way but it’s more about what differentiates your business is it going to be your commercial relationships? Is it going to be your technology? Like why are you different? And for us it’s like the technology is a means to give us a lead time to make mistakes to build these commercial relationships.

Mark Littlewood: I think we’ll take some more questions in the break. Tom, thank you very much.

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Tom Adeyoola
Tom Adeyoola

Tom Adeyoola

Tom Adeyoola’s self-confessed list of ‘fails’ at previous jobs is… significant. Technology launched before the market was ready, a funded company run into the grown, struggling to reach the heights of an American counterpart. However his current business, Metail, is going from strength to strength.

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